Learner Services and Support: Keep Calm, Culture On!

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Amy Kuntz, Penn State University (Learner Services and Support Track Co-Chair) and Dayra Fallad-Mendoza, The University of New Mexico (Learner Services and Support Best-in-Track winner)

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This is the next post of a series of Trends & Perspectives blog posts. The Track Chairs will reflect on each of this years’ presentation tracks, analyze and discuss some of the trends that you can expect to hear about at OLC Accelerate this year, and also get the perspectives of the Best-in-Track winners.

At the essence of our wide array of different positions, we have a passion for helping our learners succeed. The unique aspect of being Co-Track Chair for Learner Services and Support as part of OLC Accelerate 2019 was to see the broad spectrum of proposals focusing on helping students. This ranged from sessions about an overarching holistic plan to increase student retention and ultimately graduation all the way through the other side of the spectrum with sessions dedicated to academic and support services outside of the formal learning environment and/or embedded within online course practices. While students are important within all of the tracks for OLC Accelerate 2019, as represented in the previous and forthcoming track word clouds, it is at the front and center for the Learner Services and Support track as seen in the word cloud above.

Looking at trends in comparison to previous years, many aspects remained at the foundation of academic support services including online advising, mentoring/coaching, accessibility, student orientations, student readiness, tutoring, and holistic approaches. In addition, relatively new considerations and unique transformative topics have emerged including autism spectrum disorder, mental health, natural disaster management, equity of representation/inclusiveness, and cultural humility. The latter is the focus of the Best-in-Track winner for Learner Services and Support, Dayra Fallad-Mendoza with her session “Applying Cultural Humility in Online Learning”.  To convey the importance of this topic, Dayra explains this concept, how it became an imperative aspect of her work, and the importance it has as part of OLC Accelerate.

What is Cultural Humility and How Did It Become Important to You?

Cultural humility challenges and frees us from the idea that one needs to become or be culturally competent (Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998). In choosing to take a cultural humility approach to our lives and the work we do,  we commit to lifelong learning, critical self-reflection and the transformation of ourselves and the institutions we engage with. In short, we realize that we never truly arrive.  For many years, as I worked with migrant/seasonal farm working distance students and later on with El Centro de la Raza (Hispanic Student Services) at the University of New Mexico, I felt that I had to know it all. I had this overwhelming feeling that I had to be culturally competent and so I took class after class and workshop after workshop.  It was in my role at El Centro that I came across the concept of cultural humility.  Since I have applied this concept in my life and the student support work that I do both in-person and online. 

What Has Earning the Best-in-Track Designation Meant to You?

Presenting this concept at OLC Accelerate 2019 is extremely important for me. In this day and age, I believe that this is a concept we can apply to start meaningful conversations with those different from us. For me, applying cultural humility has enriched the work that I do and the relationships with those around me.  One of my favorite things about cultural humility is that it acknowledges the reality that our interactions go beyond culture and race (Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998). We are intersectional, complicated beings and each of us is the expert in our own experience in this world. I hope that as we all learn from each other at OLC Accelerate we will be able to, together, find creative ways to start the conversations that will help us create equity and access in online educational services and support. My goal is that individuals will walk away from this session hopeful and re-energized knowing that they can make a difference in their corner of the world, without having to know it all. 

Conclusion

As Co-Track Chair for Learner Services and Support and within my current work focusing on immersive technology, I see cultural humility providing a foundation for related progressive topics of removing implicit bias, designing for diversity and inclusiveness through Universal Design for Learning, and utilizing the affordances of technology to evoke empathy within others. Dayra’s Best-in-Track award-winning session is just one of many sessions with up and coming topical areas as part of the Learner Services and Support track at OLC Accelerate. 

In addition, there is a wide variety of topics that form the backbone of this track and a new trend of sessions showcasing collaborations between departments that lead to an integration of a seamless student service and support experience with aspects being external from the coursework, as well as, being embedded within the online course experience. Be sure to check out the full program schedule to see the wide array of important topics for yourself!

References

Tervalon, M., & Murray-Garcia, J. (1998). Cultural humility versus cultural competence: A critical distinction in defining physician training outcomes in multicultural education. Journal of health care for the poor and underserved, 9(2), 117-125.

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